CARLISLE — Linda Rice’s 42-year library career has taken her from an old Sunoco gas station in Huntingdon, W.Va., to the newly renovated $6.5 million Bosler Memorial Library.
“I’m tired — it’s time,” Rice said. “I’ve been the director 25 years … It’s time to turn it over to a younger generation.”
Rice started her library career out of college as a clerk in the children’s department of a library in Huntingdon, W.Va. Two years later, in 1973 she was promoted to librarian of a new branch — in a former gas station.
“The first day I saw it, it still had lifts and grease on the walls. We painted and poured concrete and turned it into a library,” she said. “Librarians do it all — we’re not prima donnas.”
When Rice came to Bosler Library in 1985 as a reference and adult services librarian, there were no computers, and no way for patrons to see the holdings of the other libraries in the county.
Standalone computers came to Bosler in 1990, and in 2000 there was the first computer lab.
Classes were held for 50 and older patrons who had never touched a mouse, said Rice, who recalled an 86-year-old man who was thrilled to have received his first email from his grandson. “That was priceless to me,” she said.
Today, Bosler has 78 computers for staff and the public, with 30 percent more added in the expansion.
“The Internet changed everything,” she said, allowing all libraries to have access to the same databases and information, which she said “levels the playing field for everyone. You can be in your robe and pink fuzzy slippers and go on our website at 3 a.m. and do your research.”
Rice still recalls the first reference question they answered using the Internet: “What is the address of the space camp?” Huntsville, Ala. — up it popped. It was almost instant gratification,” she said. “We couldn’t find it in our books. We would have had to contact NASA.”
The library’s circulation in her first year as director was 132,000. Now, it’s more than 500,000, and helps Cumberland County Library System’s ranking as the busiest per capita in the state. There were 13 employees in 1988, and 39 today.
Books on tape evolved into e-books. Some day, Rice said she believes libraries will be streaming movies, once bandwidth constraints are addressed. Right now libraries are still in a “shake-down period” with publishers over the cost and availability of the books, she said, but patrons are finding ways to access them. The system’s patrons rank third in the state in users of the Free Library of Philadelphia, which has a large collection of free e-books.
Rice’s retirement plans include relaxing at her Carlisle home with her two dogs, and getting things done around the house. “I’m a homebody,” she said.
A new director for Bosler has been named — Jeffrey Swope, who has been coordinator of youth services at Dauphin County Library System for the past three years, and was an assistant library director in Williamsport. With his youth services background, Rice said she hopes he will launch new services for teens, who so far haven’t had a lot of library programming directed toward them.
Despite the advancing technology, Rice doesn’t doubt books will remain on library shelves for a long time to come. “I think people will still be reading books, children will still be coming in to get picture books. The kids are where it all starts,” she said.
“I think there will always be somebody carrying a stack of books out of here to sit on their back porch and read, or soak in the bathtub and read,” she said, joking that may be “the dinosaur point of view.”